April 9th, 2010
[Update: Copies of relevant letters have been posted online here.]
At what point should American prosecutors consider filing racketeering charges against senior American and Vatican officials of the Roman Catholic Church? We now have evidence that the current head of the Church was directly and personally involved in a conspiracy to conceal criminal sexual exploitation in the United States. The Associated Press has found the smoking gun:
The future Pope Benedict XVI resisted pleas to defrock a California priest with a record of sexually molesting children, citing concerns including “the good of the universal church,” according to a 1985 letter bearing his signature.
…The letter, signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was typed in Latin and is part of years of correspondence between the Diocese of Oakland and the Vatican about the proposed defrocking of the Rev. Stephen Kiesle.
Kiesle had been accused of tying up two young boys and molesting them in a San Francisco-area church rectory, for which he got off with an unbelievable slap on the wrist of three years probation in 1978. When his probation ended in 1981, Kiesle asked to leave the priesthood and the diocese submitted papers to Rome to defrock him. Oakland’s then bishop John Cummins wrote to Ratzinger in 1982, saying “It is my conviction that there would be no scandal if this petition were granted and that as a matter of fact, given the nature of the case, there might be greater scandal to the community if Father Kiesle were allowed to return to the active ministry.” Ratzinger’s response?
In the November 1985 letter, Ratzinger says the arguments for removing Kiesle are of “grave significance” but added that such actions required very careful review and more time. He also urged the bishop to provide Kiesle with “as much paternal care as possible” while awaiting the decision, according to a translation for AP by Professor Thomas Habinek, chairman of the University of Southern California Classics Department.
But the future pope also noted that any decision to defrock Kiesle must take into account the “good of the universal church” and the “detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke within the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly considering the young age.” Kiesle was 38 at the time.
Kiesle had just been ordained in 1972, which means that he must have been tying up and molesting children right out of the gate. This article from 2002 indicates that he had been accused of molesting girls “thirty years ago.” It also gives you an idea about how notorious this guy was. Police suspected he was responsible for the abduction of Amber Swartz-Garcia in 1998 from her Pinole, CA home, as well as the abductions of three other missing girls. Police searched the home Kiesle shared with his wife in Truckee, but found no evidence in that case. (Another convicted felon later confessed to Amber’s killing.)
That same year however, he was arrested and charged with thirteen counts of molestation after three women came forward to accuse him of abusing them while serving in a parish in Fremont in the 1970s. This appears to have been the “thirty years ago” allegations mentioned earlier. All but two of those charges were thrown out after the US Supreme Court found California’s law extending the statute of limitations unconstitutional, but I haven’t been able to find out what happened with the remaining two charges. In 2003, he and the diocese were sued by seven women who said they were abused at St. Paula’s church in during the 1970s. He was sentenced in 2004 to six years in state prison after pleading no contest to molesting a young girl in 1995 at his Truckee home.
But the well-founded fear that Kiesel would go on molesting more children wasn’t Ratzinger’s greatest concern, it was the fear of bad publicity that led to him arguing for further delay after already delaying for three years. This, despite Kiesle asking to be defrocked, and his bishop all but begging that Ratzinger laicize him, saying that Kiesle would be a threat to children if he remained in the priesthood.
But Cummins isn’t exactly the hero in all of this. While he was warning Ratzinger that Kiesle was a danger to children, what did he do?
As Kiesle’s fate was being weighed in Rome, the priest returned to suburban Pinole to volunteer as a youth minister at St. Joseph Church, where he had served as associate pastor from 1972 to 1975. [Emphasis mine]
And it gets worse.
Kiesle continued to volunteer with children, according to Maurine Behrend, who worked in the Oakland diocese’s youth ministry office in the 1980s. After learning of his history, Behrend complained to church officials. When nothing was done she wrote a letter, which she showed to the AP.
“Obviously nothing has been done after EIGHT months of repeated notifications,” she wrote. “How are we supposed to have confidence in the system when nothing is done? A simple phone call to the pastor from the bishop is all it would take.”
She eventually confronted Cummins at a confirmation and Kiesle was gone a short time later, Behrend said.
[Update: Behrend’s 1988 letter complaining about Keisle’s working with youth is available online here.]
Kiesle was no longer a priest by 1987, although documents reviewed by the AP don’t show how, when or why he was laicized. The AP has constructed a complete timeline of the Kiesle case. Another timeline is available at BishopAccountability.org.
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